Braves Are ‘Keeping a Close Eye on’ $40 Million Hurler to Bolster Rotation

zach eflin

Getty The Braves might need rotation help at the trade deadline. They're keeping an eye on Rays veteran Zach Eflin as a potential option.

The Atlanta Braves are off to a strong start in 2024. They’re 26-16 but are still five games behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East as of May 20. Although the July 30 trade deadline is more than two months away, the Braves are keeping tabs on starting pitcher Zach Eflin in case the Tampa Bay Rays make him available.

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale floated that possibility in his May 19 notes column. “Atlanta is keeping a close eye on Tampa Bay Rays veteran starter Zach Eflin if they decide they need another starter at the trade deadline,” he said.

It’s still undetermined whether the Rays will sell at the deadline, but it’s more of a possibility in 2024 than it was in 2023. They own a 25-23 record, which has them eight games out of first place in the American League East. They’re also tied with the Minnesota Twins for the final AL Wild Card spot. However, one cold streak at the wrong time over the next couple of months could force them to start preparing for 2025.

A Look at the Braves’ Current Rotation Mix & How Eflin Can Help

Chris Sale was added to the Braves’ starting rotation in an offseason deal. He’s dominated through his first 49.2 innings, posting a 2.54 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. Adding him to the mix has been huge since Spencer Strider is out for the year.

The rest of the current starting staff includes Charlie Morton, Max Fried, Bryce Elder and Reynoldo Lopez, per FanGraphs’ Roster Resource. Atlanta ranks just outside the top 10 in rotation ERA (3.63 before May 20 games started). The one potential weak link is Elder. He’s struggled to a 6.46 ERA through 23.2 innings. His expected ERA of 5.24 suggests he’s not running into a bunch of bad luck, either.

Through 10 starts and 59 innings this season, Eflin has posted a 4.12 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. That ERA seems a little high, but FanGraphs has pegged his expected ERA at 3.54. While his strikeout rate has taken a dip so far compared to 2023 (26.5% to 17.9%), Eflin’s walk rate has improved from 3.4% to 1.6%.

He’s also fresh off a great 2023 performance. Eflin went 16-8 with a 3.50 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 186 strikeouts in 177.2 innings. That production helped him land sixth in the AL Cy Young Award voting. The 30-year-old would be a solid addition to Atlanta’s rotation. He’s also signed through 2025 thanks to a three-year, $40 million deal he signed with Tampa in December of 2022.

Will Atlanta Keep Its Streak of NL East Dominance Alive in 2024?

The Braves have been the class of the NL East for a while. But with just over a quarter of the 2024 regular season complete, their current stretch of dominance is being challenged.

Atlanta has won six straight division titles since 2018. While that’s led to just two appearances in the National League Championship Series, it also includes winning the World Series in 2021.

Even with an early deficit in the standings, the club has shown why jumping to conclusions isn’t a good idea. They were 10.5 games back of the New York Mets at the start of June during the 2022 campaign. Manager Brian Snitker’s squad then stormed back to clinch the division, finishing with a 101-61 record. So, there’s plenty of time left for them to make a run.

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